Europe’s Terror Challenge
Europe’s Terror Challenge
War & Peace (Season 3)
War & Peace (Season 3)
Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia

Europe’s Terror Challenge

For 70 years, Europe has been conducting a great liberal revolution. The European Union is not yet a finished project, but it has brought prosperity with peace, security and human rights in a measure the continent has never known. 2016 will reveal much about whether that revolution can keep moving forward.

On the eve of a nervous holiday season, the great challenge is to find the right responses to the Paris attacks and the so-called Islamic State, and to the refugee flood. Europe’s leaders and its citizens will be making fundamental choices about the core of the EU project. Firmness and moderation, principles and pragmatism are needed in interlocking, roughly equal measure.

Will Europe be more successful against Islamic State than the United States has been against Al-Qaeda? Fourteen years after 9/11 and four years after Osama bin Laden’s death, Al-Qaeda is alive and well, in Yemen, Syria, Libya and as a franchise elsewhere. Recent weeks have shown that the terrorist threat is still growing, with Islamic State imitating Al-Qaeda’s tactic of long-distance attacks. 

To learn from the American experience, Europe must identify which threats are the same and which are different. The stakes are higher for Europe, which, unlike the US, is not insulated by an ocean from Middle Eastern turbulence. What happens in the Middle East impacts on Paris more directly than on New York. Is the appropriate internal security response more integration of security services, even a European security agency and a common border service? Or will European states choose to retrench behind national borders?

The terrorist attacks come at a particularly sensitive time, when the refugee crisis has already opened deep divisions within the EU. Because a few terrorists can slip into Europe among the hundreds of thousands fleeing violence, they provide a powerful but specious argument to those who see the influx of desperate people as a threat to European identities. 

The European continent’s history is not that of North America, even if they share the ambition of universality. Multiculturalism is a more complex challenge in Europe, where immigrant populations often derive from its former empires’ control of most of the world; America, by contrast, has traditionally welcomed the downtrodden for a second chance. 

If Europe wants to remain true to its universalism, it must enrich its vibrant past with the cultures of those it once dominated.  It should do so without apologizing for its history. The US – with the major exception of slavery – perceives itself as a constitutional contract continuously renewed by the free choice of each American. It is almost entirely focused on the future. Europe would be impoverished if forced to choose between its past and future. That is why Europe hesitates before defining the new balance it needs to respond to this range of threats.

The structure of Europe’s reaction should have several dimensions, some of which can draw on the experience of the US, which scored successes as well as making mistakes in its ‘global war on terror’. 

A key difference is that while planned and supported from abroad, the outrages in Paris were mostly executed by home-grown terrorists. Europe has a tradition of revolutionary violence largely absent from the US experience. For most of the past 100 years, the groups advocating and practising it were inspired by 19th century European ideologies: nationalism (ETA and the IRA), anarchism, and Marxism (the Red Brigades, Baader-Meinhof and Action Directe). These have lost appeal. The only ideology with universal revolutionary ambition left standing is a strand of radical Islam. 

Another difference is that the terrorists of 2015, unlike the 9/11 engineers who learnt to pilot airplanes, are not well educated. Most seem to be small-time thugs with failed lives. They are more attracted by extreme violence than by their nominal religion, of whose tenets they know little. 

Care should be taken in joining the domestic and foreign fronts in the struggle against extremist violence. Abstaining from any direct action against Islamic State might give it an aura of invincibility that could increase its attraction. But characterizing European petty criminals turned mass murderers as a ‘terrorist army’ may help the propaganda of an organization that wants to be seen as a global strategic threat. European governments need to reassure their nervous constituencies, and cannot abstain from a military response, but they should not create the illusion that this is the main response. 

Terrorism is first and foremost a police and intelligence challenge, and that is where the US can claim a victory of sorts: there has not been a significant terrorist attack from abroad against its territory since 9/11. Guns kill many more people in the US than in Europe, but not in terrorist attacks. 

After the massive failure of 9/11, the US developed a more joined-up security response, based on extensive databases and electronic surveillance. Europe should immediately correct the manifest gaps that exist in its intelligence sharing. It should also assess the American effort, evaluating whether mass surveillance is vital to success – as security agencies claim – or presents excessive risks to civil liberties for uncertain results. 

Unfortunately, the integration of security services – and there is little doubt for an outside observer that a Europe-wide response would be best – is likely to be severely constrained by EU politics, which increasingly prioritizes national responses, a reflection of the identity crisis Europe is undergoing.

President Francois Hollande is right to oppose any attempt to divide and distinguish treatment of citizens on the basis of religion. Islamic State flourishes on the basis of polarizing societies. However, he and like-minded leaders face a political challenge from increas-ingly vocal far-Right movements that unwittingly play into the extremists’ hands.

Europe will be most secure – perfect security is impossible – if it fully respects the civil rights of all within its borders. But that should not mean allowing those borders to remain as permeable as they now are. Effective control of the EU’s external borders is a legitimate demand that needs to be met and by meeting it take the wind out of the sails of domestic critics.

This cannot happen overnight, however. Several years are needed to develop and implement institutions and procedures. The EU should consider what may be required in the interim to preserve the free internal movement that is one of its core values. A possibility might involve partial, explicitly time-limited restoration of some internal borders, within the terms of the Schengen agreement, so that documentation of non-EU citizens can be reliably checked. 

Meeting the Islamic State challenge forcefully in the Middle East, where it is centred, in particular in Syria, means inflicting pain militarily, both with some airstrikes and by giving more aid to local forces that can contest Islamic State on the ground.

The military campaign must be carefully calibrated, however. If it can portray itself as being oppressed by outsiders, Islamic State will probably gain as much in new support as it loses. If a coalition against it is allowed to include Assad forces, a possibility that Hollande reportedly hinted at recently, many Sunnis who have suffered under that regime’s brutality will conclude that Islamic State is the lesser evil.

Europe’s new struggle needs to concentrate on political solutions to the root problems in the countries from which Islamic State draws its greatest strength and where it is trying to establish its caliphate. Where it is most urgent, in Syria, this means adhering to a bottom line that a sustainable peace will not be achieved with the present regime untouched. 

This can only come to pass if the regime’s guarantors, Russia and especially Iran, can be persuaded that their core interests are among those a settlement protects. The goals of an international struggle, in other words, need to be moderate, the kind that, although facilitated by military means, can only be achieved by diplomatic compromise.

The answer to the question: ‘What kind of Europe can succeed?’ will define the thread that runs through all that must be decided and done in 2016. Will Europe choose burden-sharing and cooperation? Or will it turn ever more strongly to national solutions and isolationalism? To uncoordinated bombing in foreign military campaigns? To unilateral measures at home, including withdrawal behind national borders and the erection of walls between its citizens?

The latter path leads to a dead end, and perhaps also to the end of what has been built with so much effort and success since the Second World War. We must not allow the far-Right and the even farther-out xenophobes in our polities to drive us in that direction. What is needed now is more Europe, not less.

War and Peace hosts Olya Oliker and Elissa Jobson CRISISGROUP / Julie David de Lossy

War & Peace (Season 3)

War & Peace is a podcast series from the International Crisis Group, in which Olga Oliker and Elissa Jobson interview experts about all things Europe and its neighbourhood, from Russia to Türkiye and beyond. Their guests shed new light on everything that helps or hinders prospects for peace. Episodes from past series of War & Peace can be found here: Season 1 and Season 2.

Episode 22: 6.3 Million IDPs and a Humanitarian Crisis: Ukraine’s “New Normal”

Even if the war in Ukraine ended tomorrow, the country’s humanitarian needs would be colossal. Around 6.3 million people are displaced internally, with many still living in communal shelters not suited to the coming winter. While fighting rages on mostly in Ukraine’s east and south east, the effects of war reverberate throughout the rest of the country, which has no choice but to adapt to a “new normal” amid a continuing war.

In this last episode of Season Three of War & Peace, Olga OIiker and Elissa Jobson are joined by Alissa de Carbonnel, Crisis Group’s Deputy Europe and Central Asia Director, and Simon Schlegel, Senior Ukraine Analyst, to learn how life goes on in wartime Kyiv and western Ukraine. Alissa and Simon – back from a recent visit to Kyiv, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, as well as smaller towns outside the regional capitals – share stories of displaced people whose lives have been turned upside down by Russia’s invasion and volunteer humanitarian workers finding creative solutions to an ever-changing set of problems. They talk about their experience crossing the Polish border at Przemyśl, travelling through western regions and onto Kyiv. They recount what they saw: men and women lining up outside military recruitment offices, gyms and school halls converted into shelters for the displaced, and building windows sandbagged due to the threat of Russian airstrikes. As Ukraine adapts to this new reality, Alissa and Simon outline the enormous challenges of an emergency response for millions of people in need spread across one of the largest countries in Europe, where war is still raging.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more about the war in Ukraine, make sure to check out Crisis Group’s Ukraine country page.

Episode 21: What it Means to Demine in Ukraine and Afghanistan

Landmines remain a tool of warfare around the world. Yet both during and after fighting, they wreak havoc not just on adversaries, but also on the civilian population. In mined areas, everyday activities such as farming crops or going to school are fraught with risk. In Ukraine, after eight years of conflict, landmines have long threatened civilians in the Donbas. Now, in the wake of Russia’s February invasion, the problem affects far more of the country. In Afghanistan, meanwhile, though the fighting has largely ended, explosive devices remain in place, making schools, homes, roads and fields hazardous. Families often face the difficult choice between farming dangerous land or going hungry.

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker talks to James Cowan, CEO of landmine clearance charity The HALO Trust, about the impact of unexploded ordnance and the challenges of mitigating its risks. James recounts what he saw on recent trips to Ukraine and Afghanistan, describes some of the dangers people face daily as a result of leftover explosives. They discuss the challenges of mine and ordnance clearance in Ukraine. They talk about James’ meetings with Taliban leaders and the pressing need to clear mines on agricultural land amid the country’s growing food crisis. They also discuss the gendered effects of landmines, shelling and war more generally.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more about the situations in Ukraine and Afghanistan, make sure to check out Crisis Group’s Ukraine and Afghanistan country pages.

Episode 20: Climate, Conflict and the Implications of Russia’s War on Ukraine

When world leaders convened at COP26 in November last year, climate was at the forefront of the global agenda. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has instead triggered a new “gold rush” for fossil fuels amid skyrocketing commodity prices. In the shadow of the continuing war, leaders meeting at the G7 summit later this month must find ways to reduce reliance on Russian energy without compromising the goal of “climate neutrality” – the central theme chosen for the summit by Germany, which currently holds the G7 presidency.

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker talks to Crisis Group’s Director of Innovation and Deputy Director of the Future of Conflict Program, Champa Patel. They discuss how climate change is multiplying the threat of conflict throughout the world, driving resource competition, and amplifying social and economic inequalities. They also talk about the effect of conflict on attempts to address climate change, including in the context of the Ukraine war, and the risk that it will lead many European states to dramatically increase their fossil fuel consumption. Looking ahead to the G7 summit and a critical COP27 in Egypt, they talk about what needs to be done to keep the green transition on track and why addressing conflict-climate links must be on the global agenda.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more about how climate and conflict interact, make sure to check out Crisis Group’s Future of Conflict Program page.

This episode of War & Peace was produced with the support of Stiftung Mercator.

Episode 19: 100 Days of War in Ukraine: Russia’s Offensive in the East

After failing to capture Kyiv, Russian forces have regrouped, with Moscow looking to solidify control of territory it holds in the south and east and to capture more land, including all of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Artillery exchanges and positional fighting continue, even as local cities and towns suffer under bombardment and/or occupation.

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker and Elissa Jobson unpack some of the unique dynamics of the fighting in these eastern regions. They discuss the tactics used by the Russian army in the war so far, drawing comparisons to its other interventions – past and present – in Chechnya and Syria. They talk about what Russia is trying to achieve in Ukraine’s east and how it envisions the region’s future, as more towns come under Russian occupation. They also discuss why the prospects of successful peace talks look increasingly slim and what might need to happen for parties to decide that negotiations are more advantageous than continued fighting.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more analysis of the Ukraine war, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Ukraine country page.

Episode 18: The Ukraine War: a Watershed Moment for EU Foreign Policy?

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has been a watershed moment for EU foreign policy. Since then, the EU has mobilised €2 billion of military aid and levied some of the harshest sanctions ever imposed. At the same time, there is concern about how the effects of the Ukraine war will be felt in conflicts elsewhere, as geopolitical tensions threaten to derail fragile peace processes and undermine international cooperation.

This week on War & Peace, Elissa Jobson is joined by Crisis Group’s Senior EU Analyst Lisa Musiol and Head of EU Affairs Giuseppe Famà to run through the recommendations from our Spring Update to the 2022 Watch List. They discuss the EU’s response to the Ukraine war and how it can capitalise on an emboldened foreign policy to promote peace in some of the world’s other conflicts. Highlighting the threats to peace in Libya, Mali, Nagorno-Karabakh and Pakistan, they argue the EU must step up its engagement to prevent escalation and help save lives around the globe, not just in Ukraine.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Check out Crisis Group’s 2022 EU Watch List – Spring Update in full to learn more about the crises and conflicts where the EU and its member states can act for peace. 

This episode of War & Peace was produced with the support of Stiftung Mercator.

Episode 17: Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans

The Western Balkans, a region defined in part by not being in the European Union, also contains several countries that were devastated by war in the 1990s. Now it faces new troubles, driven in part by the legacies of the old. Bosnia and Herzegovina is confronted with calls for secession in the autonomous Serb-dominated region, Republika Srpska, as well as the ongoing electoral grievances of its Croat minority. Meanwhile, efforts to resolve Kosovo’s dispute with Serbia over its independence have come to a standstill, leaving minority communities on both sides of the border vulnerable.

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker talks to Marko Prelec, Crisis Group’s Consulting Senior Analyst for the Balkans, about why ethnic tensions persist in the region and whether there is any risk of a return to conflict. They discuss the prospects for European integration, asking whether the promise of EU membership remains an effective incentive for resolving these longstanding disputes. They also consider what impact Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had for stability in the Western Balkans, a region where painful memories of war are still very salient today.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more of Crisis Group’s analysis, make sure to check out our Balkans regional page and keep an eye out for our upcoming report on the risk of instability in the Western Balkans.

Episode 16: Internal Displacement and Humanitarian Response in Ukraine

Russia’s war in Ukraine has created a huge displacement crisis, with nearly eight million people internally displaced and over five million fleeing abroad. As the fighting enters its third month, the war's immense humanitarian cost looks set to mount even higher – potentially leading even more to flee.

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker and Elissa Jobson talk to Simon Schlegel, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Ukraine, about this humanitarian emergency and how Ukraine and its Western partners have responded to it. They discuss the different causes and types of displacement, how these have evolved throughout the war and the obstacles faced by vulnerable groups attempting to flee. They also take stock of the humanitarian response so far, asking how Ukraine and its partners can best ensure a sustainable strategy that addresses a wide variety of needs. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more of Crisis Group’s analysis, make sure to check out our Ukraine page and keep an eye out for upcoming reports on the country's humanitarian crisis and the war’s impact on global commodity prices.

Episode 15: Can the OSCE Survive the Ukraine War?

The future of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is in doubt. Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine in clear violation of the OSCE’s commitments to territorial integrity, sovereignty and human rights, has put unprecedented strain on the world's largest regional security organisation, raising questions about its viability as a forum for engagement between Russia and the West.

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker and Elissa Jobson are joined by Dr. Cornelius Friesendorf, Head of the Centre for OSCE Research, to talk about the OSCE’s future in the wake of the war. They discuss the OSCE’s origins, the role it plays today and the longstanding challenges it has faced as it tried to uphold its lofty ambitions. They also ask what role it could play in Ukraine, from facilitating dialogue to monitoring a possible ceasefire, and what steps its members can take to prevent its collapse.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more of Crisis Group’s analysis, make sure to check out our Ukraine page and our recent commentary, ‘Preserving the OSCE at a Time of War’.

Episode 14: Ukraine's Global Shockwaves

War continues to rage in Ukraine, over a month after Russia launched its large-scale invasion. Alongside its staggering humanitarian consequences, the war’s fallout has been felt widely around the globe – impacting everything from commodity prices to negotiations to finalise the Iran nuclear deal. Meanwhile, countries’ responses to the invasion have run the gamut from outrage to ambivalence to sympathy.

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker introduces new co-host Elissa Jobson, as they unpack these far-reaching shockwaves and discuss how the conflict is being viewed around the world. They talk about why Ukrainian and Russian narratives do, and don’t, reverberate in the Global South and whether disillusionment with perceived Western hypocrisy has given Russia an edge in the information war. They also discuss the impact of President Biden’s “this man must go” comment about his Russian counterpart and take stock of the prospects for a negotiated resolution to the war. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more of Crisis Group’s analysis, make sure to check out our Ukraine page.

This episode of War & Peace was produced with the support of Stiftung Mercator.

Episode 13: Turkey and Russia’s Complicated Relationship 

Russia and Turkey’s complex relationship sometimes baffles outside observers. In many respects, Turkey and Russia are fierce competitors: Moscow and Ankara back opposing camps in Libya, Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh, and Turkey is a member of NATO – the alliance Russia views as both adversary and threat. Nevertheless, this has not prevented collaboration between the two powers, who share profound economic and cultural ties and have made concerted efforts to deepen diplomatic relations, often to the frustration of Turkey's Western allies. 

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker and Hugh Pope talk to Eleonora Tafuro Ambrosetti, a research fellow at ISPI, about Russo-Turkish relations. Eleonora helps unpack the two countries’ complex relationship and sketch out the deep economic and cultural ties connecting them, as well as the numerous sources of tension pitting Ankara against Moscow. She discusses Turkey’s juggling act in balancing relations with the EU and the Kremlin, and how Russo-Turkish relations and soft power shape geopolitics in Central Asia, the Caucasus and Africa. Mainly recorded prior to the massive invasion of Ukraine by Russia in late February, this episode also includes a brief addendum to reflect those events.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

N.B. Please note that this episode was recorded in late January 2022. 

For more on Turkish foreign policy, check out our Turkey regional page. For analysis on the Ukraine crisis and its global implications, make sure to explore our Ukraine page and read our latest Q&A: “The Ukraine War: A Global Crisis”.

Episode 12: Where Can Europe Best Act for Peace?

The year 2022 looks set to be challenging for Europe. The EU must reckon with growing risks of conflict close to home: from a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine to rising ethnic tensions in the Western Balkans, the EU must brace itself for new wars on its doorstep. Elsewhere, deadly fighting and humanitarian disasters continue to rage across the globe – from Afghanistan to Ethiopia to Venezuela – and threaten to claim many more lives.

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker is joined by Crisis Group’s Senior EU Analyst Lisa Musiol and Head of EU Affairs Giuseppe Famà to run through Crisis Group’s 2022 EU Watch List. They discuss eleven conflicts across the globe in which EU action or support could help prevent violence from escalating and humanitarian emergencies from worsening. They assess the successes and failures of the EU’s existing foreign policy toolkit and ask how it can adapt its strategy to contend with a world of mounting great power competition.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

Make sure to check out Crisis Group’s 2022 EU Watch List in full to learn more about the ten countries to consider in 2022 for early action and relief by the EU and its member states.

This episode of War & Peace was produced with the support of Stiftung Mercator.

Episode 11: How Does the EU Help Prevent Conflicts?

The president of the European Commision, Ursula Von Der Leyen, has vowed to create a more “geopolitical commission”, ramping up Europe’s external involvement and staking out an increasingly prominent place on the world stage. Though it has at times struggled to forge a united policy, the EU should not be underestimated: as the world's third largest economy, the bloc has numerous tools at its disposal with which to exert its influence. Indeed, the EU already plays a key role in preventing conflicts around the world and improving prospects for peace. 

This week on War & Peace, Olya Oliker and Hugh Pope are joined by Hilde Hardeman, the director general for EU Publications and former head of the Service for Foreign Policy Instruments. They take stock of the challenges and opportunities facing Europe as geopolitical tensions at its borders reach boiling point and discuss how the EU’s foreign policy toolkit has evolved over time. They also talk about the EU’s conflict prevention strategies, its drive to put “green diplomacy” at the centre of its foreign policy, and Hilde’s commitment to combatting disinformation around the world. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

Make sure to check out Crisis Group’s 2022 EU Watch List on the ten countries to consider in 2022 for early action and relief by the EU and its member states.

Episode 10: What Just Happened in Kazakhstan?

In early January 2022, an unexpected wave of protests swept across Kazakhstan. Initially provoked by a doubling of the price of liquified petroleum gas (LPG), the protests rapidly grew more political as they spread throughout the country, encompassing a wide range of interests and demands. President Qasym Joomart Tokaev responded by shutting down the internet as his police detained over 12,000 people. Over 200 people died in the ensuing violence, and Tokaev called for help from his allies in the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), even as he reshuffled his government. As the dust settles, Kazakhs hope for reform, fear more crackdowns, and seek clarity about what was behind the violence and what the future holds for their country. 

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker and Hugh Pope are joined directly from Almaty by Nurseit Niyazbekov, assistant professor of international relations at Almaty’s KIMEP University and an on-the-ground witness of the protests (see below for a link to footage he shot the night of 5-6 January). They discuss the unrest’s initial triggers, the protests’ rapid spread, the government’s crackdown and rumours of a power struggle between the country’s ruling elites. They also talk about parallels with other post-Soviet states, Tokaev’s successful request for foreign military support from the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and the possibility of a geopolitical realignment in the region. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify 

For more information, make sure to explore Crisis Group’s Kazakhstan page and read our latest Q&A ‘Behind the Unrest in Kazakhstan’. You can also check out Nurseit’s incredible footage of events in Almaty here.

Episode 9: Could Citizens’ Assemblies Save Democracy?

A wave of democratic experimentation is defying conventional wisdom about electoral politics and good governance. Randomly selected citizens’ assemblies are becoming a popular tool for tackling complex policy issues. Ireland, France and Belgium, among others, have turned to citizens’ assemblies in recent years, often with considerable success. Proponents of this kind of random selection, also known as sortition, argue that it could usher in a new era of inclusive governance, an attractive prospect in an age of mounting inequity and public disillusionment with politicians. Still, doubts remain. For one, citizens’ assemblies have almost exclusively been trialled in wealthy Western countries. 

This week on War & Peace, Olya Oliker and Hugh Pope are joined by Brett Hennig, president of the Sortition Foundation and author of The End of Politicians: Time for a Real Democracy. They discuss the basic precepts of sortition, the mechanics of setting up a representative citizens’ assembly, and their potential relationship with established political institutions. They talk about whether random selection could rebuild faith in democracy and how to ensure consensual and informed deliberation. They ask whether citizens’ assemblies are singularly suited for Western democracies and what role they could play in healing societal divisions in conflict-stricken states.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

To find out more about Brett’s work make sure to check out his book The End of Politicians: Time for a Real Democracy and the Sortition Foundation’s website.

Episode 8: What Does Belarus's President Lukashenka Want? 

In 2020, Belarusian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenka cracked down on protesters challenging the results of an election in which he had claimed resounding victory, and on the opposition in general. The European Union (EU) refused to recognise Lukashenka’s regime and imposed far-reaching sanctions. Relations between Belarus and its Western neighbours have since continued to spiral downward. In the summer of 2021, thousands of people, mainly from the Middle East, began gathering at the country’s border with Poland and the Baltic states, hoping to enter the EU. Incensed governments accused Lukashenka of ‘weaponising’ migrants by facilitating access to the border, and responded with a fifth round of sanctions. Lukashenka has so far refused to back down, turning ever more to Moscow for support, even as Russia’s relations with the West continue their own rapid decline and Russian troops mass near Ukraine. 

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker and Hugh Pope are joined by Yauheni Preiherman, the Founder and Director of the Minsk Dialogue Council on International Relations. They discuss the realities of the border crisis and Lukashenka’s motives in fomenting it, asking whether his gamble has backfired. They also review Belarus’ foreign policy trajectory, its past overtures toward the West and its complicated relationship with Moscow. They talk about regional implications of the standoff with Europe and assess what Belarus tells us about how small states can and cannot navigate increasingly belligerent great power competition. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify 

For more of Crisis Group’s analysis make sure to explore our Belarus page and check out our latest ‘Behind the Frictions at the Belarus-Poland Border’.

Episode 7: New Ways to Think About Nuclear Weapons

The threat posed by nuclear weapons is changing and policy-makers are struggling to keep up. As the Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference approaches, it is clear that the nuclear security field needs a new way of thinking. Nuclear-weapon states are expanding their arsenals and non-proliferation efforts have faltered: it is estimated that Tehran’s nuclear breakout time is now less than a month away, following Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran deal in 2018 that had extended that timeline to 12 months.

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker and Special guest-host Ali Vaez, Crisis Group’s Iran Project Director, are joined by Dr Emma Belcher, President of Ploughshares Fund, to ask whether and how bold innovation can solve some of these intractable challenges. They discuss the ways in which policy debates have, or have not, evolved, the continued dominance of deterrence theory and the wave of new, diverse and creative thinkers challenging stale ideas. They also discuss the resumption of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, prospects for other non-proliferation efforts and hopes for a nuclear-weapon-free future.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify 

Make sure to learn more about Dr Belcher’s work at Ploughshares Fund by visiting and listening to Ploughshares podcast Press the Button.

This episode is part of our continuing War & Peace sub-series on nuclear weapons and strategy. Click on our special coverage page here to listen to more episodes and benefit from a range of perspectives about everything from deterrence to civil defense to nuclear-weapons-free zones.

Episode 6: One Year On from the Ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh

On 10 November 2020, a Russian-brokered ceasefire put an end to a devastating war in Nagorno-Karabakh that killed some 7,000 people. But it did not bring peace. The year since has seen the situation grow increasingly uneasy. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have fortified their military positions along the state border and continue to exchange deadly fire: mid-November saw the worst escalation of fighting since the war’s end. Meanwhile, as Russian peacekeepers patrol in Nagorno-Karabakh, the region’s political status remains contested and talks are intermittent.

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker and Hugh Pope are joined by Olesya Vartanyan, Crisis Group’s senior analyst for the South Caucasus. They discuss the recent violent flare-ups along the line of contact, the roles – planned and unplanned – played by Russian peacekeepers, Turkey’s role and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. They also discuss prospects for negotiation and ask what can be done to put an end to post-Soviet Eurasia’s longest-lasting conflict. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

For more information, make sure to explore Crisis Group’s Nagorno-Karabakh page and to check out Olesya’s recent op-ed for the Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI) ‘A Risky Role for Russian Peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh'.

Episode 5: German Foreign Policy After Merkel 

After sixteen years at Europe’s helm, Angela Merkel is stepping down from power. The federal election in September also marked an end to the long-term hold her political party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), had had over German politics. Merkel’s likely successor, Olaf Scholz, is now looking to forge a “traffic light coalition” between his Social Democratic Party (the SPD, whose trademark color is red), the Greens and the Liberals (yellow). While Scholz and his allies have made ambitious commitments to modernise Germany, it remains unclear what, if anything, this portends for foreign policy. Foreign affairs have so far taken the back seat during coalition negotiations, eclipsed by domestic concerns. Still, Germany’s new chancellor will be forced, however reluctantly, to contend with tremendous geopolitical shifts on the continent and further away. 

This week on War & Peace, Hugh and Olga are joined by Jana Puglierin, Head of the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Berlin Office, to make sense of Germany’s future under a new chancellor. They discuss the deprioritisation of foreign policy, possible sticking points between coalition members, the future of the transatlantic alliance with the United States, and increasingly bitter relations with Russia, Turkey and China. They ask whether Scholz’s chancellorship will chart a new course for Europe, and how Germany and the continent are poised to contend with a world of great-power competition. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s work on Europe and its neighbours by checking out the regional pages on the left hand side of our website. You can follow Jana’s work on the ECFR website

If you want to hear more about Merkel’s legacy, make sure to check out EuroPod's latest podcast, available in four languages. 

Episode 4: Europe’s Balancing Act in Western Sahara

Exactly a year ago, in November 2020, an old conflict on the south-western edge of Europe burst back into flames. After almost 30 years of ceasefire, the pro-independence Polisario Front and Morocco went back to battle stations in Western Sahara. European states have so far taken a timid stance in response, preferring not to involve themselves in another intractable conflict. Nonetheless, the new focus on Western Sahara is unsettling many relationships, particularly with Morocco. For its part, the Kingdom has taken a hardline response to even the most limited of criticisms: Rabat’s ambassador to Germany was even recalled after a public spat in May. A recent verdict from the European Court of Justice excluding Sahrawi goods and fish from a trade deal risks further ratcheting up tensions. So, how will conflict in Western Sahara affect Europe’s relations with Morocco? 

This week on War & Peace, Hugh Pope is joined by Intissar Fakir, Director of the Middle East Institute’s North Africa and Sahel Program, and Riccardo Fabiani, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for North Africa. They discuss Morocco’s successful hardball strategy, the Polisario’s desperate gambit, Rabat’s troubled alliance with Spain and France, and the ramifications of the Trump administration’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty. They ask whether Europe’s arms-length stance is another example of regional powers flexing ever-growing influence at the expense of  the “big players” in the Old Continent’s capitals.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify 

For more information explore Crisis Group’s work on Europe, Morocco, and Western Sahara, by checking out the regional pages on the left hand side of our website. Make sure to take a look at our recent report ‘Relaunching Negotiations’. 

Episode 3: The Migration Lessons of Afghanistan and Syria

In 2015, over a million people fleeing conflict arrived at Europe’s borders. The continent showed itself to be woefully underprepared, struggling to address the unfolding catastrophe at its doorstep: as decision makers wrangled over asylum quotas, a humanitarian crisis escalated to dramatic proportions. Six years later observers fear that “another 2015” could be imminent after Kabul’s fall to the Taliban. 

In this episode of War & Peace, Olga Oliker and Hugh Pope welcome Liz Collett, Senior Adviser to the Director of the International Organization for Migration to ask how seriously we should take contemporary parallels with 2015. They also talk about the continued impact of the pandemic on global mobility, how climate change is transforming the future of migration, and ask how states can better protect both vulnerable migrants and internally displaced people.  

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify 

For more information explore Crisis Group’s work on Europe, Afghanistan and its neighbours, check out the regional pages on the left hand side of our website. 

Episode 2: What's at Stake for Russia in a Taliban-led Afghanistan

The Taliban’s dramatic toppling of the Afghan government prompted much soul-searching in the West. But for those closer to Kabul, anxieties about how the Taliban’s takeover will shape the region’s future are even more acute. Where some see risk, however, others see considerable opportunity. Russia’s position, for one, remains ambiguous: while Moscow seems unlikely to formally recognise the new government, it has cultivated a cordial relationship with the Taliban. For their part, Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbors seek to balance possible economic and political collaboration and looming security threats.

So, as the dust settles in Afghanistan, what’s driving policymakers in Russia and Central Asia?  In this new episode of War & Peace, Olga Oilker and Hugh Pope are joined by Ivan Safranchuk, Senior Fellow at Moscow’s Institute of International Studies, to discuss the role they will play in shaping Afghanistan’s future and to ask whether the country can avoid becoming the arena for yet more great-power competition. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information explore Crisis Group’s Afghanistan, Russia and Central Asia regional pages and make sure to read Ivan’s latest article here.

Episode 1: Big Data and Global Security

As rapidly developing data technology outpaces governance structures and their ability to adapt, the long-term impact of increasingly data-driven economies on security and society remains uncertain. What happens when personal data ends up in the hands of those in power?

In the first episode of the third season of War & Peace, Olga Oliker and Hugh Pope are joined by Jim Balsillie, co-founder of Research in Motion, now known as BlackBerry, and founder of the Balsillie School of International Affairs, the Centre for Digital Rights and the Arctic Research Foundation, to discuss the intersection of technology and governance. They talk about the new global rule of law framework that was created to regulate technology and the dangers still presented by exploitative tech firms and anti-democratic governments looking for asymmetrical leverage. Jim also explores how data autonomy should be balanced with the ideals of democracy and how future generations will look back with concern on this era of lax personal data security.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s Technology and War global issue page.

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